Will you be the next victim?
Identity theft is a crime
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. In 2005, there were over 685,000 reports of consumer fraud and identity theft, resulting in a loss of over $680 million dollars. Surprisingly, while reports show that 37% of the population has been the victim of identity theft, those aged fifty and above are least likely to report. Generally, you will not know that your identity has been stolen until it is too late. The first notice you may have is a credit card statement for charges you did not make or information about an account in your name, which you did not open.
How your information is obtained
While your social security number is confidential and protecting it is important, identity thieves may be able to get your personal information through various means. For example, they may steal your wallet, purse or mail. They may be able to get information that you provided to an unsecured website. They may sort through your trash, pose as someone that needs information about you, or buy personal information from a store employee.
Although in this day and age you may be unable to prevent identity theft from occurring, you can make your information more difficult to obtain. You should be careful about sharing your social security number and shred any mail that you receive that states your social security number or account information. You should always get additional information from anyone calling on the telephone requesting personal information and find out what a store’s policy is regarding your credit card application. If the application is stored in a secure location after you have applied, it is less likely to be seen by multiple employees.
If you become a victim
If your identity is stolen, you will have to prove that you did not create the debt. One tool you may use to avoid possible responsibility is called an Identity Theft Affidavit. The Identity Theft Affidavit was created and can be obtained through a group composed of credit grantors, consumer advocates and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Its purpose is to help you report general information about yourself and the theft to many companies with the use of just one form. However, it is important to keep in mind that some companies may have their own required forms and will not accept an Identity Theft Affidavit.
Identity Theft Affidavit
The Identity Theft Affidavit will be useful to you if a new account was opened in your name. The information will enable the companies to investigate the fraud and decide the outcome of your claim. If someone has made unauthorized charges to an existing account, you will need to call the company to find out how to proceed.
Fraudulent Account Statement
Additionally, you will prepare a Fraudulent Account Statement. This is where you describe the fraudulent account(s) in your name. You will use a separate Fraudulent Account Statement for each company.
When you send the Identity Theft Affidavit to the companies, you will also need to attach copies of any supporting documents you have. You should complete the Identity Theft Affidavit as soon as possible. Many creditors will expect it within a couple of weeks. The faster you provide the necessary information, the quicker an investigation into your claim will begin.
Once you have finished completing the Identity Theft Affidavit, you should mail a copy to each creditor, bank or company that provided the thief with the unauthorized credit, goods or services you describe. All paperwork should be sent through certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can prove that it was received. The companies will review your claim and send you a written response telling you the outcome of their investigation. It is important for you to keep a copy of everything you submit for your records.
Report the Fraud
Along with providing the Identity Theft Affidavit to the companies involved, it is also important to report the fraud to the following organizations:
1. Each of the three national consumer reporting agencies. Ask each agency to place a fraud alert on your credit report, and send you a copy of your credit file. When you have completed your Identity Theft Affidavit packet, you may want to send them a copy to help them investigate the disputed accounts.· Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc. (800) 525-6285/ TDD 1-800-255-0056 P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 www.equifax.com · Experian information Solutions, Inc. (888) 397-3742/ TDD (800) 972-0322 P.O. Box 9530, Allen, TX 75013 www.experian.com · TransUnion (800) 680-7289/ TDD (877) 553-7803 Fraud Victim Assistance Division P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634-6790 www.transunion.com
2. Your local police department. Ask the officer to take a report and give you a copy of the report. Sending a copy of your police report to financial institutions can speed up the process of absolving you of wrongful debts or removing inaccurate information from your credit reports. If you cannot get a copy, at least get the number of the report.
3. The FTC, which maintains the Identity Theft Data. You can visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft or call toll- free 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338). The FTC collects complaints from identity theft victims and shares their information with law enforcement nationwide. This information also may be shared with other government agencies, consumer reporting agencies, and companies where the fraud was perpetrated to help resolve identity theft related problems.
While completing this Identity Theft Affidavit does not guarantee that the identity thief will be prosecuted or that the debt will be cleared, it is an affirmative step to repairing your credit. By doing so, you may not only help yourself but also slow the cycle of identity theft nationwide
Malissa L. Walden, Esq. ©2006